Essaouira, Morocco – Making a good first impression

Last year when I visited Morocco a number of people informed me they were taking an excursion to Essaouira. This included two pretty young Norwegian girls in my Riad; they were gushing compliments when they returned, leaving me with a burning desire to visit. On that occasion unfortunately there was not enough time to squeeze it in. I was particularly pleased to receive an invite from the Moroccan Tourism Board and gratefully accepted.

Shop in the Jewish quarter of Essaouira, Morocco in North Africa on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Medina shopping in the souk

“Casablanca sprung up to replace it”

The city was once the main port of Morocco and was extremely wealthy, but it is now difficult to imagine it as a thriving centre of commerce. The reason for the fall from grace is because the channel was not sufficiently deep enough to cope with modern cargo vessels and Casablanca sprung up to replace it.

The loss to the shipping industry is the gain of the traveller however. Essaouira is now a popular tourist destination and has become a favoured destination for many.

Essaouira artist at work on the fortified ramparts of the port in North African Morocco on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Artist at work

It’s built around the fortified ramparts of the old harbour which still has an active fishing fleet and fish market where locals seek fresh dinner and foreigners seek fresh images. There is also a medina and souk which although obviously catering for tourists still retains an ‘authentic’ charm.

Amidst the spectacle of colour provided by the many vibrant fabrics, aromatic spices and hand-crafted ceramics is the constant blue of the doors and shutters. It is impossible to miss and is intentional, as it is mandatory for homes and businesses to keep them so. Blue is my favourite colour so it made me feel especially comfortable wandering through the ramshackle buildings and workshops which line the narrow streets

The power of the Atlantic Ocean in Essaouira, Morocco on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Crashing Atlantic waves

“losing the authentic charm of the souks here would be a shame”

Although not necessarily as busy as the medina of Marrakech there are still a number of scooter riders to negotiate and the occasional pothole. Pavements do not exist and some of the streets are merely hardened, uneven sand but it is this raw state of disrepair along with its traditional culture that’s what appeals about the medina. It makes it an adventure and great for exploring.

It is unkempt and hopefully it will remain so, development is of course necessary but outside the old city, losing the authentic charm of the souks here would be a shame.

The fish market in Essaouira, Morocco on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Fresh fish is on the menu

A Moroccan cafe in the medina of Essaouira in the Jewish quarter on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Relaxing time in the medina

The nearby fishing port is no less traditional, dozens of blue long-lining boats ride the swell of the incoming surf and larger trawlers line the docks. Fisherman when not selling their daily catch of sardines, dogfish, bass, rays, skates or blue shark at the side of the road are repairing nets and lines for the following day. This scene has probably not changed in centuries.

Essaouira prides itself on its hippy background and the bohemian feel reflected in the bars and restaurants which is eagerly advertised. Fresh seafood is obviously popular but tajines and couscous dishes are widely available whilst savouring a local wine to a backdrop of traditional live Gnawa music.

Live band music in Essaouira, Morocco on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Live music in one of Essaouira’s sophisticated bar restaurants

“Essaouira prides itself on its hippy background”

The wind provides the perfect conditions for surfing with decent rollers but is probably even better suited to kite-surfing which is extremely popular. There are usually dozens of colourful kites in the air and the resort holds a number of competitions including the World Cup event in 2010. There are quad-bikes for rental but those that prefer a more relaxing ride can try some horse riding or even on a camel along the long sandy beach.

Authentic North African medina in Essaouira, Morocco on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

Streetwise in the souk

There is plenty to offer travellers; so much to experience it is easy to understand why it is many Moroccans favourite city. It certainly left a great impression on me and I look forward to sharing a few more of these with you in future posts.

Kitesurfing in Essaouira, Morocco in the North African Atlantic on Mallory on Travel adventure photography

The kite runners of Essaouira

Whilst I was visiting at the pleasure of the Moroccan Tourism Office the experiences shared here are as always uniquely my own.


Comments 18

  1. Bret @ Green Global Travel

    GREAT photos, Iain! Morocco has always been in my Top 5 list of places to visit, and Essaouira is of particular interest due to the bohemian inclinations you mentioned. After reading this, I think the country has moved even higher up our list of places to visit in 2013…

  2. Trekking Marokko

    Very nice photos! I think, that Essaouira will change during the next years like the rest of Morocco. The only way to get as much impressions of this “old Morocco” as possible ist travelling, travelling, travelling, before its completely changed.

  3. Emiel

    Essaouira…..beautiful name and beautiful town. Not the most popular place in Morocco and maybe that will stay that way…because of, as you mentioned, the strong winds. It’s great for surfing, but not so much for beach lovers (they all go to Agadir). So thanks to the Wind for keeping Essaouira authentic. Wishful thinking maybe, maybe not.
    The blue city, we loved it as well. We spend our time with the family in Ourzazate, Dades Valley, Marrakech and Essaouira. We love to go back and after reading your post I hope (and trust) it will not take that long 🙂

  4. Sandra Jordan

    Great blog and photos Iain. I am off there in October for 9 weeks to teach underprivileged teenagers photography. I have been to Morocco before but not Essaouira, so wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but now having read this I am getting quite excited!

  5. Jeff Dobbins

    Loved this, and loved Essaouira. After my meal at the fish stands a wandering dessert vendor offered me “Happy cake,” guaranteed to leave me flying. I declined, since I’d soon board a mini-bus full of seniors heading back to Marrakesh. I hope to return and actually stay in Essaouira.

  6. Wanderplex

    Great photos! I loved Essaouira too, and I really enjoyed the laid back vibe of the place. It was a stark contrast to Fez and Marrakesh, which were fantastic in their own right but very “bustling”.

    1. Post

      Totally agree Reena loved all three but for different reasons, but the chilled out vibe of Essaouira was definitely part of the charm. Thanks for commenting

  7. Jade Johnston -

    I’ve heard a lot of great things about Essaouira as well, but never got to visit it last time I was in Morocco. However, I’m a little scared to go back without a man with me, since last time I was there I was endlessly harassed and it really put a damper on the trip

    1. Liz

      Jade, I know where you’re coming from as you’re seen as a “pretty white tourist” Though, if you venture to just reply politely with a smile and say hi or thanks as you walk by, you’d be surprised! During ramadan, it was how I got invited by a man with his friends for tea in Marrakesh’s medina and got taken for a walk around town at night; and I was a lone woman traveller…

    2. Post

      I understand what you mean Jade, but I believe Essaouira maybe more suitable for solo female travel, anybody else have any experience they can share regarding this?

  8. FiFi

    I loved Essaouira, so laid back, traditional and yet bustling.
    Our riad was adorable and we loved the night time markets. We had great fun with one sales man tried to buy me for four camels (all in good fun) it is well worth the trip. Beautiful and authentic.

    1. Post
  9. Jan Kalserud

    What a great first impression of Essaouira! This coastal town was in the seventies an unpolished diamond, appreciated by the hippies because of its genuine cultural charm…as all Morocco attracted adventurers and explorers of the world.Today Essaouira is still a diamond, polished and refined as a tourist spot…improved infrastructure and a hausse in housing…and tourist attractions. The pearl of the Atlantic……has much more than the laid back athmosphere at the cafees or the beaches. Wonderful pictures of the nature and the town with the whitewashed walls with blue doors and seagulls flying over the days catch of fish attracts tourists and in the summer visitors from inland, where it is 40° , comes here to fresh up . Most tourists spend just a few days mostly experiencing the strong wind and chilly humid climat – not a paradise for swimming but rather for wind- and kitesurfing. In the wintertime not so strong winds and moderate mild climate , occationally warm rainshowers and excellent for surfing.
    The interesting history of the site Mogador can be seen in its architecture but also its in its particular culture.The impact of tourism, immigration by Europeans (mostly French) and the returning of Moroccan expats from Europe has made Essaouira today a cosmopolitan oasis with a high grade of tolerans between particular ethnic or cultural groups.
    Welcome to Essaouira Mogador

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